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[Pre-Lesson 1] ABCs of Acts

“Acts is a fast-paced, action adventure book which chronicles the birth and growth of the early church from the Jewish center of Jerusalem to the Gentile capital Rome. In addition, it is a bridge-like sequel to the Gospels that precede it and background for the epistles that follow. But most of all, Acts is a tribute to the transforming power of God, as evidenced in the Apostles’ lives. Observing the changes in their lives from fearful weaklings to irrepressible dynamos gives us hope and encouragement today.” (Sue Edwards, Acts of the Holy Spirit, p. 2)

The Book of Acts can be described as, “The acts of Jesus Christ by His Holy Spirit through His church.” It is not a complete history of the early church or the apostles but rather a book that selectively gives the history of early Christianity from Jesus’ ascension through two years of Paul’s Roman imprisonment.

Author

Although the author does not name himself, evidence from outside the Scriptures and inferences from within the book itself lead to the conclusion that the author was Luke, the physician and companion of Paul. Certain passages using the pronoun “we” indicate the author includes himself as Paul’s companion on his journeys. Paul confirms in his letters that Luke indeed traveled with him, using the term “doctor” in describing Luke (Col. 4:14). Some word choices in both Luke and Acts suggest that a medical man was the author of these books (for example, Acts 28:6).

The abrupt close indicates that Acts must have been finished after the latest date mentioned in the book (28:30), c. 62. A possible timeline for the events in Acts is on the next page.

Background

As a second volume to Luke’s Gospel, the book of Acts provides a bridge for the writings of the New Testament, joining what Jesus “began to do and to teach” as told in the Gospels with what he continued to do and teach through the apostles’ preaching and the establishment of the church. Besides linking the Gospel narratives on the one hand and the apostolic letters on the other, it supplies an account of Paul’s life from which we learn the setting for his letters. Geographically its story spans the lands between Jerusalem, where the church began, and Rome, the political center of the empire. Historically it recounts the first 30 years of the church. It is also a bridge that ties the church in its beginning with each succeeding age.

Context

Luke weaves together different interests and emphases as he relates the beginnings and expansion of the church. The design of his book revolves around (1) key persons: Peter and Paul; (2) important topics and events: the role of the Holy Spirit, pioneer missionary outreach to new fields, transformed lives, the growth of the church, and life in the Christian community; (3) significant problems: conflict between Jews and Gentiles, persecution of the church by some Jewish elements, trials before Jews and Romans, confrontations with Gentiles, and other hardships in the ministry; (4) geographical advances: five significant stages. You will also see evidence for the inspiration of Scripture, the gospel message taught from the very beginning, the emphasis on witnesses of Jesus’ life and resurrection, and the continuing display of God’s power through miracles. (Information adapted from The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, pp. 1641-1643)

Timeline Of Acts

The following are generally accepted dates although slight variations can be found in various commentaries and study Bibles. 

Year A.D.

Events in Acts

Other Historical Events

30

Jesus’ death and resurrection; Pentecost (Ch.1-2)

Tiberius is emperor of Rome

33-34

Stephen executed; Paul persecutes the church (Ch. 6-8)

 

35

Paul meets Jesus on the Damascus Road (9:1-22)

 

38

Paul goes up to Jerusalem (9:23-31) then Tarsus

Caligula becomes emperor of Rome (37 A.D.)

40

Gentiles added to the church (Ch. 10)

 

43

Barnabas and Paul at the Antioch church (11:25-26)

 

44

James (brother of John) executed; Herod Agrippa I dies (Ch. 12)

Claudius becomes emperor of Rome (41 A.D.)

46-48

Paul’s First Missionary Journey (Ch. 13-14)

 

49

Jerusalem council (Ch. 15)

Claudius expels Jews from Rome

50-52

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (Ch. 15:36-18:22)

 

53-57

Paul’s Third Missionary Journey (18:23-21:25

Nero becomes emperor of Rome (54 A.D.)

57-59

Paul arrested & imprisoned in Caesarea (Ch. 21-24)

 

59-60

Paul sent to Rome (Ch. 25-28)

 

60-62

Paul under house arrest in Rome (Ch. 28)